Published on December 20th, 2013 | by Christopher DeMorro


Algae To Oil In 1 Hour

December 20th, 2013 by  

Originally published on Gas2.


While electric cars are becoming increasingly popular with those seeking an alternative to oil, liquid fuels and combustion engines are going to remain a dominant force for decades to come. One of the most promising alternatives to fossil fuels is oil produced from algae, and researchers have developed a new process that takes just minutes to turn pond scum into carbon-neutral fuel.

Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have created a continuous chemical process that turns wet algae into useful crude oil, the big difference being the use of wet, rather than dry algae. See, most algae-to-oil processes require energy-intensive drying of algae, before it can be converted into oil. Utah-based Genifuel has licensed the technology, and is in the process of building a pilot plant to create the algae oil en masse.

The entire process from algae to oil takes less than an hour, with water and phosphorus (which can be used to grow even more algae) being the main byproduct. From there, the algae oil can be further refined as either diesel, gasoline, or aviation fuel. While there are literally dozens of algae oil research operations just in America, the fuel remains incredibly expensive to produce and would require oil prices to skyrocket in order to be price competitive. This latest breakthrough could change all that.

By eliminating the drying process, as well as the complex process requiring industrial-grade solvents to extract oil from the algae, researchers have eliminated two of the costliest roadblocks to producing cost-effective algae. While algae fuel is for sale at a handful of locations around San Francisco, this breakthrough is big news for people waiting for a real alternative to oil that isn’t electric or hydrogen cars.

Will we all be filling up with algae soon?

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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • Thomas Holmes

    If you are using heat and pressure – you have expensive equipment and energy costs to produce a bit of fuel. I would figure about $5 to $8 a gallon for the fuel. This would work for how many consumers? And it appears to be black oil which is not going directly into your tank – so it still needs to be refined for even more money.
    Don’t know how this algae oil will be feasible as it costs about $2 a gallon just for the algae without being processed to oil. Would have to have the entire process including refining and shipping to gas station at $3 or less to be feasible as an alternate fuel.
    Unless of course it becomes like Obamacare and you are mandated to purchase it.

    • Sanjay MUKERJI

      Algae fuels can work with viable economics at the moment. Not as engine fuels, but as boiler fuel blends. Consider an oil fired boiler – hugely expensive given current Oil prices. With minimal investment these can be converted to operate on slurry fuel – typically coal or petcoke slurries (which behave very similar to oil – can be stored in tanks, pumped etc). Such slurries are in any case formulated with water content between 15 and 30% and some oil and additives (homogenisation/stability etc). Algal mass grown from CO2 digestion and then harvested will require only a bit marginal-cost water removal (water removal being a major contributor to the cost of the Algae to fuel process) is an ideal substitute for the oil+additve mix. This “Algal Sludge” of ~ 9000 kCal/kg CV should cost between 10 to 20 cents a kg and make a 20:80 Sludge:Coal (or Lignite or Petcoke or Anthracite blend) rendering the resultant PWFS/CWFS cheaper than even the parent Coal in terms of unit energy per dollar.

      Not only would this allow existing Oil-fired units to operate with viability, but a whole new market for boiler design – customised to operate on Slurry fuel – opens up – environmentally far superior to coal and much cheaper too; for equivalent duty.

      Why go for end-fuel solutions when intermediates can contribute hugely (even a 10 to 15% shift in favour of conservation is significant) – at great cost saving – allowing for FGDs etc etc.

      have done costings pretty extensively….with no help from the Agencies/ Institutes and companies…reach out to them but all they appear interested in is the next junket / press release / or pitch for the Stock market.

      The innovators have erected fortresses and cannot be reached; WILL SOMEONE HELP

      Sanjay MUKERJI….frustrated in New Delhi….contact +91 88022 48162 OR

  • johnBas5

    Another article mentions cost:

    Algae go in, biocrude oil comes out
    Could cost anywhere from $3 to $7 per gallon.

  • johnBas5

    This would alleviate dependency on non renewable crude oil for other purposes than making electricity!

    A big win!!

    I hope the economics work out for this.

  • dduggerbiocepts

    There’s no break through unless it changes the cost of producing a salable biofuel product. With no supporting economics in the article – there’s also no credibility.

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